Do your research
With so much location information and so many photos available online and in apps, you’re able to hit the ground running when you arrive
Damian Shields lives a couple of hours’ drive from one of the highlights of the Scottish Highlands, Glen Affric, and in the spring of 2015 he and a couple of friends headed down the mythic glen. However, due to snow-melt and 48 hours of non-stop rain, they were evacuated to a B&B on high ground as the area recorded some of the highest flooding on record. Damian never made it to the glen and the depressing decision was made to return home.
“Initially I had determined to return at a time of year that would see a good dusting of snow on the peaks, with some of the earthy tones of autumn lingering in the foliage at lower levels,” reveals Damian. “I began my research on Google, looking at images returned from ‘Glen’ and ‘Affric’ as the search terms. Next, as I often do, I looked up images from the area as previously shot by dedicated landscape ’togs from sharing sites like Flickr and 500px. The important thing in all this is for me to build up a picture in my head, a basic familiarity, of what I might expect to find that would stand me in good stead, rather than just turning up and sacrificing precious time on location
finding my feet. Weather-wise, I will usually look at least three different forecasts a week before, a few days before and the night before for every day I am away.
“This classic viewpoint is the image that had started the whole ball rolling in my head. It’s up there as one of the most iconic visions of a typically ‘Scottish’ vista, with the clutches of Caledonian forest zig-zagging into the foreground left and right, and the backdrop of majestic peaks all coming together to cradle the water in the centre. The natural tendency for most photographers seems to be to try and cram as much of the view into one frame, usually in a panorama. I had visualised cropping right into the centre of the scene as a more satisfying option and had determined on location, therefore, to shoot the view using the long end of my 70-200mm. I also thought of how I could simplify the scene even further by getting to a spot further down the loch that would also give more prominence to Beinn Fhada, the most handsome peak of the range.
“Following a slow trudge through bumpy heathered ground off an old rough track, I found an ideal position on the edge of the treeline on the southern side of the loch. I was at a good elevation where I could look over a line of pines that clustered a shark-finned peninsula of land that jutted into the loch. I had timed my arrival to take advantage of a still-low morning sun to define the mountains, and I was fortunate that horizontal stripes of still surface water were reflecting the peaks above. I was also grateful for the patches of cloud that helped break up the monotony of the otherwise vapid blue sky. I set up my D800 on a tripod just below the highest point, loch-side, to give me some shelter from a cold wind that might cause vibration during the long exposure, and slipped an ND grad over the end of my 200mm to retain colour and detail in the sky. I lingered in this position for well over an hour, until I was satisfied with the frames I had captured, before moving on, happy with the pay-off from preparation and patience – and not a raindrop in sight!”
Checking out other photographers’ images of an area is a great way to familiarise yourself with local landmarks